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Digital Debunking: Does Size Matter at the World Lumberjack Competition?

Here at Altair HQ, we’ve worked up a sweat delivering our most significant software release in 10 years—Altair® HyperWorks® 2023. To relax a minute and cool off, we decided to recreate the watery fun of the World Lumberjack Championship. More precisely, it’s time for another edition of our Digital Debunking series—this time at a virtual boom run. Could simulation help us to find the winning formula? What’s the perfect body size and weight for success? 

The boom run is a perennial favorite of any Lumberjack Championship. Fast and fearless competitors pit themselves against a row of logs that lie end-to-end across a stretch of water. The aim is simple. Run to the end of the logs and back, as quickly as you can.  

We’re not going to start throwing about scientifically unsound clichés like “defying gravity.” But it is fair to say that the physics of keeping your balance during the boom run are challenging. The potential for competitors to meet an ignominious end is at the heart of the event’s spectator appeal.  


We’re All Off to Barbie Land

Just as we were considering the science of floating logs, one of the season’s smash hit movies serendipitously made its splash. Quickly putting aside dark thoughts of a potential mash-up with Oppenheimer, we instead took our inspiration from Barbie Land and the residents who live there: Doctor Barbie, Physicist Barbie, and Weird Barbie, to name just a few. 

We couldn’t resist throwing our own manifestation, Lumberjack Barbara, into the mix. With woodchips in her hair, we waved Barbara off on her “Best Day Ever.” That, of course, would be a simulated version of the boom run, free from the inherent biases of the real world. 


Maestro Marine: The Naval Architect’s Best Friend

Our friends at Maestro Marine, a valued member of the Altair Partner Alliance (APA), were kind enough to host the whole event. Trusted by naval architects for over 30 years, Maestro Marine is used worldwide to design and analyze hulls and ship structures. Of particular relevance, the software includes an integrated frequency and time domain computational tool to predict the motions and wave loads of floating structures.


Can Barbara Get the Better of a Lumberjack Legend?

The experts at Maestro Marine organized a contest between two very different fictional characters: Altair’s very own Lumberjack Barbara is an athletic and proudly pink ax-chopping creation. She stands 5’9” (175 centimeters) and weighs 135 pounds (61 kilograms). Her rival is Paul Bunyan, mythical hero of the lumber camps and the symbol of burliness, strength, and vitality. Technically, he’s a giant. To allow Paul to qualify for this event, we humanized him slightly. As a result, he stands at a mere 7’8” (231.14 centimeters) and weighs 300 pounds (136 kilograms). 

The problem we set for Maestro Marine was to predict which contestant is best suited for dashing across the bobbing logs. Which body type is likely to complete the run without falling into the water, based on the degree of log pitch/motion?

In real life, boom run competitors run across the logs to a fixed platform, then back to the starting point. The female and male records currently stand at 13.98 and 12.26 seconds respectively. Impressive stuff. 


Simulating the Boom Run

We made things a bit more straightforward for Barbara and Paul. This was to be a one-way race, and the challenge was all about staying out of the water. Speed was not considered. Neither were flat feet, or Barbara’s notoriously inflexible limbs. 

We assumed that each contestant’s sprinting stride length was 55% of their height. Barbara’s stride therefore measured 38 inches (96 centimeters), and Paul’s at 51 inches (129 centimeters). The logs were set at 10 feet (3 meters) long and 2.5 feet (80 centimeters) in diameter, with a density of 34.34 pounds per cubic foot (550 kilograms per cubic meter). 

The Maestro Marine team set up the analysis as a linear simulation. Using this method, they adjusted the weight of the contestants to approximate the force with which each stride would impact the logs. For the simulation, that stride force was set at twice the contestant’s bodyweight. Lumberjack Barbara’s was therefore 270 pounds (122 kilograms), and Paul Bunyan’s 600 pounds (272 kilograms).


Victory at the World Lumberjack Competition

The short video clips tell the story of the race.

Paul's boom run.

Barbara's boom run.


As you can see, our supposed lumber hero Paul imposes too much force on the logs to make it across without getting wet. In contrast, Barbara stays comfortably above water every step of the way. Our virtual boom run was more than just a whimsical project; it demonstrates the combined predictive power of Maestro Marine's advanced computational tools for studying motion and wave loads on floating bodies with Altair's drive for innovation. Through this, we helped demystify the physics of the challenging boom run and offer insights into the optimal body dynamics required for this fun lumberjack event.

So, who won? Simulations showed that Lumberjack Barbara's lighter weight and shorter stride offered her a generous advantage for maintaining balance on the logs. Despite the folklore appeal of Paul Bunyan's larger-than-life stature, it turns out that size isn't everything in the realm of virtual boom runs.


Simulation is Everything

Whether you're a lumberjack navigating a boom run or a naval architect designing hulls and ship structures, with Altair and Maestro’s proven simulation solution, you’ll discover how to improve your designs so that you can get to the finish line before your competition. To learn more about Altair's simulation solutions, visit